One of the most remarkable lessons I have had in my life came from a clown.
I had just started university and I joined the theatre club. I always enjoyed the literary side of theatre but I was always a bit hesitant on stage and, in fact, off-stage too in my day-to-day life. I thought perhaps the theatre would help that.
Every other week a visiting actor or director guided the lesson. One week a clown turned up. A professional clown.
I didn’t think too much of it and we went through normal ‘warm up routines and exercises’.
The first exercise was a role play exercise that required the following reenactment to take place. The following words MUST be used and person B must respond with YES each time …
A: Do you have something to show me?
A: I would really like to see it. Would you like to show me?
A: Please do.
B [then acts something absolutely ridiculous, e.g. jumping around, chicken noises, silly faces etc]
A: Thank you. I really enjoyed that.
B: You are welcome.
A: Have you got anything else to show me?
A: Please go ahead.
B: [then acts…. etc etc until the roles are swapped]
There are two key elements to this exercise.
1. Person B has to do some something ridiculous and the more stupid the better.
2. When person A says ‘thank you’, he has to genuinely mean it. This is crucial.
After a few runs at the exercise, the clown selected me and my partner to go on stage and perform this nonsense in front of the others. I was person B.
We reenacted this process and it went on and on and on.
I looked over at the clown several times and asked him how long this was going on for. He responded with, No I’ll tell YOU when to stop. Continue.
So we continued and this went on for well over five minutes of pure humiliation. (That’s a long time on stage). At a certain point I remember thinking the words, ‘F*** this, I really don’t care any more’.
And at exactly that point, the clown stopped us said, yes, we had finally got there. He explained he could see exactly when I had let go of my inhibitions – and that’s what he was waiting for.
Learn to let go.
A remarkable lesson. It’s a brilliant exercise: As soon as you can feel comfortable doing something really stupid in front of other people , then any other type of public interaction becomes a lot easier.
Foreign language learning confidence
I have used this exercise in language learning trips abroad on our first day. I, too, have found it quite evident when someone is too concerned about “what other people might be thinking” rather than letting go. It feels awkward to watch people like that.
Thus another fantastic tip the clown gave us was this:
If you ever fluff your lines or suddenly feel very awkward on stage, then do the following. Turn to the audience, look straight at them – straight into their eyes, pause, then smile. The entire audience will relax en masse. Any tensions will just evaporate! Nobody wants to sit awkwardly in an audience and cringe. When the audience feels uncomfortable, you can certainly feel it on stage – it’s palpable. If you have the confidence to look at them and smile, you will put them at ease. The pause is important as it conveys confidence.
This certainly applies to language learning and your conifdence, too. If you have ever felt ‘lost for words’, awkward or people have laughed at your attempts then take some advice from a clown: relax and smile.